Mixed Signals: New from Ikea: A Nursery for Men

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Ikea does lots of things right. It has funky home furnishings at decent prices. It has that mesmerizing cart escalator. It has a nursery for kids. And now it has Manland for men.

That’s right. Now women can drop off their men in Manland so they can have 30 minutes of man-less shopping. Here’s how it works: Upon signing your man into Manland, you receive a beeper that will buzz after 30 minutes, prompting you to return and pick up your guy. Watch the promo from Ikea here:

I like the idea of Manland. A lounge with games and snacks where men can relax while their female counterparts shop—who doesn’t like food and fun? What I don’t like is the sense that these men are being checked into preschool.

For the past century women have pursued equality of the sexes, and rightly so. But many messages in the marketplace today speak highly of women by way of demeaning men. The way Ikea has positioned and promoted Manland is an example of this.

Lest my disdain is seen as an overreaction, let me propose the converse: a major shopping outlet introduces Womanland, a place where the man can drop off his woman for 30 minutes of woman-less shopping while she watches soaps and eats bonbons until his beeper buzzes and he is reminded to return to pick her up. What woman would not find this utterly degrading?

Negative messages abound in the marketplace depicting men as helpless and shallow. Ikea’s Manland is not the greatest offender, by any means. (I believe TV sitcoms to be the worst.) But just as men—and especially Christian men—should be first to stand up and defend the dignity of women, so too should women defend the dignity of men. Christian women should not align with this sort of man-bashing messaging because we know that God’s image is stamped on men and women alike. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .’; God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26–27, NASB).

We uphold God’s image by protecting the dignity of both sexes. This message is contrary to the marketplace today. The way I see it, Jesus’ respectful treatment of women was countercultural in His day just as our respectful treatment of men is countercultural today. Honoring God’s image bearers, both male and female, is another way we can follow the Lord’s lead rather than the way of our culture.

About Erin Straza

Erin Straza (Associate Editor) is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications consultant, helping organizations tell their stories in authentic and compelling ways. After a stint in corporate marketing while earning her MBA, Erin taught marketing communications at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State. She is crafting her first book, writing from the Illinois flatlands where she lives with her husband, Mike. Find more from Erin at her blog Filling My Patch of Sky and on Twitter @ErinStraza.
E-mail: erin [at] FillingMyPatchOfSky [dot] com
Blog: Filling My Patch of Sky
Twitter: @ErinStraza

  • Ben Bartlett

    I hear what you’re saying, Erin. And I appreciate it. But I also really like the idea of Manland.

    I hate Ikea. It is specifically designed (through the mazelike floors and foodcourts) to prolong your shopping experience as long as is humanly possible, which in my case means more than 15 minutes but in my wife’s case means several hours. The problem is that my wife prefers to have me shop with her, often at several stores in a row.

    Now, each couple has to work out how they structure these things in their own marriage. More often than not, my wife graciously allows me to stay home rather than “pick up a few things” on a two hour venture to Marshall’s. But Manland means I can participate, but there can be some respite… perhaps I can look over a few things with her or help her make a few decisions, but when she just wants to browse without my grumpy demeanor hanging around I have a place to go read a book.

    As you say, though, I think there’s definitely a cultural bias that says it’s ok to characterize men as lazy, stupid, incompetant, and irresponsible. Cultivating respect becomes more and more difficult in small circles (i.e. families, churches, workplace) in that type of an environment.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    I’m confused.

    You seem to be blaming women for “Manland.” I apologize if I’m misreading, but turning “Manland” into a call for women to be more respectful of men seems to say that women are at fault for the idea, inception and creation of such a place, which is not how I read “manland” at all. I see it as a negative, demeaning stereotype of men perpetuated by a society still built on rigid gender stereotypes and roles, for which both men and women are responsible.

    It’s demeaning to both men and women because it assumes that women are the ones who like to browse and take their time while shopping therefore denying the individual nature of women. And, as you point out, it assumes men are people who find the task of decorating their home booooring and stupid and need to be entertained at every juncture. It reads as “your man is a drag on you while shopping” to women (not something I find true at all) and “your woman is a nagging harpy who makes a potentially fun task terrible and something you need a BREAK from” to men.

    You’re right in that this is degrading to men. You err in making it seem as though women are somehow responsible both for the degradation and for the redemption of that degradation. IKEA’s move here doesn’t speak highly of either gender.

  • http://librate.tumblr.com Devon

    Dianna–yes, thank you for saying it. This is not the latest in a long trend of advertisers demeaning men. (If it were, well, men run the advertising industry, so it would still be a stretch to blame women.) But it’s not. It’s the latest in a long trend of advertisers using the men-are-just-not-WIRED-for-housework line to keep putting the burden for house-keeping (which includes shopping for the home) on women.

    What, the idiot man put the colors and whites together in the wash? *Sigh* Guess the woman will just have to do it herself from now on. What, he doesn’t know how to make the kids dinner when she’s gone? That’s ok, she can make dinner ahead of time and seal it in these handy little labeled containers in the fridge so that it requires absolute minimal effort. What, a full-time job is just too demanding and all he wants to do is play X-box in the basement? It’s ok–the woman has a good job and takes care of the kids and runs the household and pays the bills and isn’t that all just so EMPOWERING to women!

    One of the best (or perhaps I should say worst) examples of how daily life for men is apparently just. so. difficult… is that Superbowl ad for the Dodge Charger that came out a few years ago. You can easily imagine adding “I will walk through the endless aisles of Ikea” to the litany of oh-so-degrading things his wife makes him do. If only men didn’t have women around, constantly asking them to DO things.

    Come on, CaPC. What’s right on the surface is not always the whole story. Go deeper.

  • Alan Noble

    Two thoughts:

    Dianna, Erin doesn’t actually say that women are responsible, nor does she say that women need to be more respectful of men. She is saying that we need to defend the dignity of both sexes. I think you are misreading her, but I’ll let Erin clarify.

    Devon, as Erin properly points out, we are called to defend the dignity of both sexes, so I’m glad that you pointed out that this commercial is degrading to women as well as men. That is helpful. However, we can’t make the opposite error and see this commercial as degrading only to women. Because it simply isn’t. In fact, it is unhelpful and degrading to take something that stereotypes men and suggest that even when it perpetuates this stereotype it is really just degrading women.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Alan, this is where I got my confusion/point:

    “For the past century women have pursued equality of the sexes, and rightly so. But many messages in the marketplace today speak highly of women by way of demeaning men. The way Ikea has positioned and promoted Manland is an example of this.”

    My point is that this is misleading. Both genders – when advertising holds tightly to gender roles and stereotypes – suffer, and manland is another example of this. I read manland as demeaning to both, not “speaking highly of women at the sacrifice of men.”

  • Alan Noble

    Right, got it. Yeah, I agree with you. That’s a good correction.

  • http://www.FillingMyPatchOfSky.com Erin

    Great points, everyone. I’ve enjoyed reading and processing.

    Ben > I too liked the idea of a place to wait (with snacks! I would love that). I don’t have a problem with the concept. My issue was how it was presented (signing the men into the area, getting a beeper, etc.). I felt bad for the guys. Why the 30-minute time limit monitored by store personnel? Couldn’t these adults just set a time and meet up again? It all felt very adult day care.

    Dianna > I see your point in the side discussion with Alan. Let me expound and correct: In many ads, the woman is portrayed as superhuman while the man shown to be helpless and incapable. (ick to both!) You are correct—it is not the fault of women that Ikea is offering a Manland. I love your summary: It reads as “your man is a drag on you while shopping” to women (not something I find true at all) and “your woman is a nagging harpy who makes a potentially fun task terrible and something you need a BREAK from” to men.

    Devon > Advertising does work this way—packaging products and services in a way that sounds appealing. Messages are crafted to spin it in favor of that brand. That’s why we need to be aware. And yes, this offering was bothersome to me for both men and women. But I don’t think it’s because men are truly slackers and advertisers have entered into some sort of conspiracy to keep women “empowered” to do it all. For more on this, check out the research and writings of Mary Kassian, who is an expert in the field. This article in particular is fascinating! http://www.girlsgonewise.com/men-are-weak%e2%80%a6women-are-machines/

  • http://librate.tumblr.com Devon

    Alan and Erin,
    Yes, this commercial is “bothersome” to both men and women, but in very different ways. It’s insulting, stereotyping, and demeaning to men, as you’ve pointed out. And it is neither insulting nor demeaning to women (on the surface). Rather, it reinforces both men’s and women’s roles in the patriarchy, which is harmful to women beyond mere insult. It reinforces patterns of behavior that require women to bear the burden of household labor (regardless of whether they also labor outside the home).

    Similar kinds of “Loser Guy” commercials, movies, and TV shows also indicate that women should also do the work of maintaining the romantic relationship and raising the children. Moreover, this genre explicitly de-values this work when (because) women do it. Thus, as women try to accomplish this work, they become a “nagging harpy,” as Dianna put it. The IKEA commercial doesn’t go this far, except to imply that men of course would not want to accompany their wives and girlfriends around the store (small print: because shopping is girly, ick).

    Are men “truly slackers”? Of course–we’re all truly slackers. But advertising always uses our preconceptions and ingrained habits and assumptions to bring out the worst in us. It plays on our insecurities and fears, hatreds and envies–whatever it takes to motivate me to shop. In this case, IKEA makes use of the biases of the patriarchy that we all ascribe to. Intentionally, as part of a conspiracy? Unlikely, but it doesn’t matter.

    As for the article you linked to, it makes the same mistake as this review of the IKEA commercial: the idea that the smart-wife-dumb-husband trope means “Women are beginning to do the same thing that men did for thousands of years” (Montgomery). That’s nonsense. True empowerment doesn’t mean I’m empowered to do the laundry without the help of my dumb husband. Empowerment means I get to decide how labor will be apportioned based on my unique gifts and passions. When both partners are empowered, they make these choices together. In the IKEA commercial, men have a choice: shop with the wife or hang out with the dudes. Women don’t.

    **Let me say, I do appreciate this discussion (although I get worked up about these issues). If you come from the complementarian perspective (as Mary Kassian apparently does), then we have inherent differences in our assumptions about what ideal male/female relationships look like. Nevertheless, I appreciate your thoughts.

  • http://www.FillingMyPatchOfSky.com Erin

    Devon, I’m glad you chimed in. I especially like your comment: “Empowerment means I get to decide how labor will be apportioned based on my unique gifts and passions. When both partners are empowered, they make these choices together.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    I also think that when both partners are empowered, they both take offense at advertising that portrays the other in a demeaning way. (Sort of like, I have my husband’s back and he has mine.) So when Ikea portrays the man as a kid who is toted around by the wife (pseudo mom, which is doubly icky), I took offense. My husband is not a preschooler who needs to be checked in and out of a man lounge; because I found that to be silly, I decided to write about it! Likewise, my husband is annoyed by messaging that portrays women as “harpy naggy” (thanks, Dianna, for that descriptor). My angle and analysis were not exhaustive; the angle and analysis you and Dianna have brought has been helpful in rounding out the discussion.

    **I know what you mean about the complementarian perspective. That is a loaded term, though! People who adhere to this perspective land along a wide spectrum and hold to varying beliefs. I honestly don’t know if my ideas land under it! But because I am not opposed to what you have said, my guess is no. Also, I have found Mary Kassian’s research, speaking, and writing to be quite liberating—she has challenged me to boldly pursue the use of my gifts for the Kingdom by living fully in how God has made me.


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